UK: Reports Point to Ongoing Disclosure Failings – Cause of Miscarriages of Justice

cardiff3Two very interesting reports have been published in the UK, both detailing the continuing crisis in disclosure, which is key to a just criminal process and crucial in ensuring a fair trial and preventing miscarriages of justice. Yet numerous reports and reviews always find disclosure to be a serious problem among the police and prosecuting authorities (the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in England and Wales).

Firstly, in a joint report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (a national oversight body for the police) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (providing oversight of the CPS), the findings are yet again damning:

“The inspection found that police scheduling (the process of recording details of both sensitive and non-sensitive material) is routinely poor, while revelation by the police to the prosecutor of material that may undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence case is rare. Prosecutors fail to challenge poor quality schedules and in turn provide little or no input to the police. Neither party is managing sensitive material effectively and prosecutors are failing to manage ongoing disclosure. To compound matters, the auditing process surrounding disclosure decision-making falls far below any acceptable standard of performance. The failure to grip disclosure issues early often leads to chaotic scenes later outside the courtroom, where last minute and often unauthorised disclosure between counsel, unnecessary adjournments and – ultimately – discontinued cases, are common occurrences. This is likely to reflect badly on the criminal justice system in the eyes of victims and witnesses.”

As well as a series of pragmatic recommendations, the report authors refer to a needed change in ‘culture’: “However, just as importantly as responding to each issue, is a need for a change in attitude to ensure that disclosure is recognised as a crucial part of the criminal justice process and that it must be carried out to the appropriate standards.”

The Criminal Cases Review Commission reported in their 2015/2016 Annual Report that they have seen a “steady stream” of miscarriages where the primary cause was a failure to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defence. The inspection concentrated upon ‘volume’ crime – as the focus on serious crime means that those cases considered less serious are often given a low priority – yet individuals are routinely remanded in custody, convicted and imprisoned wrongly on ‘minor’ charges. Read the Inspectorate report here: MAKING IT FAIR: A JOINT INSPECTION OF THE DISCLOSURE OF UNUSED MATERIAL IN VOLUME CROWN COURT CASES, JULY 2017.

Secondly, the case of the Cardiff Three – one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice in British history, led to the trial of 8 police officers for their role in the arrest and prosecution of five men (three were convicted). However, the case collapsed after crucial evidence went ‘missing’. An inquiry into the collapsed trial has now reported after 2 years, and concluded that the collapse (the missing evidence subsequently surfaced after the police staff were formally acquitted) was due to ‘human error’ and not ‘wickedness’.  The report makes 17 recommendations for the disclosure process – the author stating: “Disclosure problems have blighted our criminal justice system for too long and although disclosure guidelines, manuals and policy documents are necessary, it is the mindset and experience of those who do disclosure work that is paramount.”

Read the full report here: Mouncher investigation report, July 2017

Media reports here: Trial of Cardiff Three police collapsed due to human error, inquiry finds

DNA convicts killer of 1976 murder previously ‘solved’ by police coerced confession that sent wrong man to prison.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailA man has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for the 1976 rape and manslaughter of Janet Commins, a 15 year old girl, a crime that made national news at the time. Stephen Hough was interviewed along with all local men aged 17-22, but was ruled out after claiming to have been stealing petrol at the time. Instead, another local young man, Noel Jones, a barely literate 18-year-old traveller who had been picked up by police the day Janet’s body was discovered, was interviewed for days without legal assistance. He denied all knowledge of the crime but later his girlfriend told police he had confessed to killing Janet and had asked her to provide him with an alibi. After two days of questioning, he signed two detailed confession statements. On the second day of his murder trial in June 1976, he admitted manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Noel Jones spent 6 years in prison for the murder.

(Picture l-r: Stephen Hough, Janet Commins and Noel Jones)

 

At the time of the investigation, police suspected Jones had an accomplice, and in 2006 they undertook a ‘cold case review’ to try and secure forensic evidence against their second suspect. This did not match, and was uploaded to the National DNA Database. A decade later, Stephen Hough was arrested after sexually assaulting another 15 year old girl. When DNA was taken, this was also uploaded to the National DNA Database where it matched the crime scene DNA from the 1976 murder.

Noel Jones described the six years he spent in prison as a “nightmare” which “absolutely destroyed my life”. He has never challenged his conviction, but says he is innocent and only confessed because police had pressured and coerced him.

The original investigation is now being re-examined. The police officer in charge of the investigation rose through the ranks to become Deputy Chief-Constable. At Hough’s trial he gave evidence that nobody thought to offer Noel Jones a solicitor during the initial stages of his questioning because he wanted to investigate “properly and thoroughly”. Police could be “impeded” by solicitors representing clients, he said, adding that “there was no requirement in those days for a person to be advised that he could have a solicitor”.

Yet another miscarriage of justice from the era prior to mandatory police recording of interviews, where police practice was to aim to secure confessions at all costs. One wonders how many more are laying dormant, with no DNA to reveal the truth after all these years.

Read more here:

Janet Commins: How police caught her killer after 41 years

Stephen Hough jailed for 12 years for Janet Commins killing

Janet Commins: Killer’s confession ‘made up by police’

 

Richard Leo on False Confessions

Here is a great article that interviews Professor Richard Leo about false confessions.  Check it out.  As you may know, Richard is one of the world’s leading experts on false confession, and his body of work can be found here for free download.

Blind Injustice Facebook Group

As social media platforms like Facebook seem to be supplanting blogs to some extent in terms of activity and relevance, please visit and join the Blind Injustice Facebook group here, for ongoing, daily discussions of wrongful conviction issues.  This blog will be updated from time to time with new, longer and more substantive posts, but most daily activity going forward will take place on Facebook at Blind Injustice. Thank you for continuing to follow this blog, and for you passion in fighting wrongful convictions.

4th of July Quick Clicks…

Breaking News: Osaki Case Wins a Retrial!

Kagoshima District Court granted a retrial for Ayako Haraguchi, who always maintained her innocence. She was convicted for a 1979 murder case, and served 10 years in prison. She filed her first request for a retrial in 1995. This was her 3rd plea for a retrial.

Previous post on the Osaki Case here.

From the Japan TimesContinue reading

Appeals Court Concurs: Brendan Dassey’s Confession Was Involuntary

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal magistrate judge’s ruling that Wisconsin inmate Brendan Dassey’s confession in the rape and murder of Teresa Halbach (featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer”) was involuntary. The state Justice Department had appealed and will likely seek a review by the 7th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court. The state also has the option of retrying Dassey within 90 days.

In an Associated Press article, Steven Drizin, an expert on false confessions, Co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University, and one of Dassey’s attorneys said, Continue reading

Tyrone Noling Case in Ohio Supreme Court Today

Tuesday June 20th, Ohio Innocence Project attorney Brian Church Howe will be arguing in the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of Tyrone Noling, an innocent death row inmate. Even though the witnesses against him have recanted and said they were pressured by the police to falsely implicate Tyrone, the state of Ohio wants to execute Tyrone WITHOUT giving him the DNA testing he deserves. DNA testing could prove his innocence. This is absolutely outrageous. Watch a powerful video about his case here:
https://vimeo.com/193942101

And watch Brian argue in the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday morning here:
http://www.sc.ohio.gov/videostream/flash.asp His is the last argument of the day.

Read former Attorney General Jim Petro‘s powerful editorial about the need for DNA testing in this case here: http://www.cincinnati.com/…/petro-dna-testing-vi…/408458001/

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Weekend Quick Clicks…

Exoneration today in Michigan…

From an email from David Moran of the Michigan Innocence Clinic (with permission):

 

The Michigan Innocence Clinic is very pleased to announce the exoneration today of our client, Desmond Ricks, who served 25 years for a murder he did not commit because the Detroit Police Department (DPD) Crime Lab committed forensic fraud and then covered it up.

On March 3, 1992, Mr. Ricks rode with his friend, Gerry Bennett to a restaurant in Detroit where Bennett was to meet a man for a drug deal. Ricks stayed in the car in the parking lot while Bennett went inside. A few minutes later, Bennett emerged from the restaurant with another man, who then pulled a gun and shot Bennett twice, killing him. The man then noticed Ricks, and so Ricks jumped out of the car and fled as the man opened fire on him. In the process of running away, Ricks dropped his jacket.
The police found the jacket, with Ricks’ ID, in the parking lot. They then drove to the home where Ricks lived with his mother and arrested him. The police searched the house and found a .38 Rossi special in Ricks’ mother’s nightstand.
Two days later, a Detroit Police firearms examiner declared that the two bullets recovered from Gerry Bennett’s body matched bullets he had test-fired from Ricks’ mother’s gun. Ricks insisted that this match was not possible, so his lawyer got the court to appoint an independent firearms examiner, David Townshend, who confirmed the DPD’s result. So both Pauch and Townshend testified for the prosecution at trial. There was no evidence of any kind against Ricks other than the bullets which matched his mother’s gun.
In 2008, however, the DPD Crime Lab was shut down after the Michigan State Police found massive “irregularities” in the ballistics unit. After hearing of the scandal, Ricks wrote David Townshend, who drove to the prison to meet Ricks, where he revealed that he had been suspicious for nearly two decades of the “autopsy” bullets he had analyzed in 1992.
Townshend told Ricks that he now believed the bullets the DPD gave him were too “pristine” and intact to have been removed from Bennett’s body. Townshend concluded that the DPD had given him the test-fired bullets and passed them off as the bullets from the autopsy so that Townshend would declare a match between those bullets and his own test-fired bullets, thereby confirming the DPD’s result.
Long story short, we took the case in 2011, spent years looking for the original autopsy bullets, eventually found them, and then got a court order to have them analyzed by the Michigan State Police Crime Lab. That analysis was completed last week and shows that David Townshend was correct: the bullets from the autopsy were far too mangled to be matched to any particular gun, but one of the bullets did have a faint pattern of 5 lands and grooves, which affirmatively excluded it as having been fired from a .38 Rossi (which has 6 lands and grooves).
The conclusion, then, is that the DPD Crime Lab in 1992 fabricated a match of the autopsy bullets to Ricks’ mother’s gun and then switched the autopsy bullets with test-fired bullets so that the independent examiner (Townshend) would not discover the fraud. Upon receiving the Michigan State Police report last week, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office immediately stipulated to overturn Ricks’ conviction and to not oppose his release on bond. Today, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss all charges.
Mr. Ricks was 26 when he was convicted and is now 51. He has spent time the last few days with his two daughters (both nurses) and met his six grandchildren for the first time. He looks forward to getting a job and, as he said at a press conference, “becoming a taxpayer.”
Over six years, we had seven different attorneys and about 15 law students work on this case. Our former staff attorney Caitlin Plummer had the case the longest and did the lion’s share of the work to get this result. A special shout out goes to the incomparable Claudia Whitman, who heard about this case before we did and very forcefully convinced us to accept it. And we are extremely grateful to David Townshend, who came forward with the truth when he realized that he had been duped into confirming the DPD’s “match” and didn’t waver even when the prosecutor initially called his claim “outlandish” and a “conspiracy theory.”
Dave Moran
Michigan Innocence Clinic

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Tedx talk on the psychological flaws that lead to wrongful convictions…

Watch Wrongful Conviction Blog editor Mark Godsey’s 18-minute Tedx talk on his new book Blind Injustice (Amazon #1 new release in its category) here.

Purchase book here….

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Innocence harder to prove than guilt…

Marissa Bluestone of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project discusses how proving innocence post-conviction is so much larger burden than a prosecutor proving guilt at trial.  True words never spoken.   Read or listen here

Tuesday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Learn about what The Exoneree Band is up to these days
  • The Ohio Innocence Project exonerees Rickey Jackson, Nancy Smith and Clarence Elkins on yesterday’s episode of The Doctors, talking about PTSD
  • Article spotlighted how bad interrogation techniques lead to false confessions
  • Innocence movement hero Jennifer Thompson speaks up about how new legislation in Alabama could hurt the innocent
  • Son speaks out about mom’s wrongful conviction

Mother’s Day

Here is a link to a Dateline NBC episode about OIP client Nancy Smith, who served 14 years in prison. She was a single mother of 4 when she was ripped away from her children and put behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit. But she endured, and always remained a mother, as mothers will do. A caring, loving mother, trying desperately to do everything she could help her children from prison. When the truth came to light and she was released, she spent her freedom watchingher grandchildren (all but 1 were born when she was in prison) while their parents worked. 

Mothers are sacred, and wrongful conviction touches even the sacred mother like Nancy Smith. Happy Mothers Day to you Nancy Smith.

And Happy Mother’s Day to all the wrongfully convicted moms who have been exonerated, or who are still in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. And Happy Mother’s Day to ALL mothers who miss their children today because they are behind bars.